ICE PRINCESS Starring Miss Perfectpants.
Bad Guy
dir. Kim Ki-duk
Opens Fri March 18.

At first glance, Kim Ki-duk's Bad Guy offers very little to recommend it. It's cheerless and brutal, littered with beatings and stabbings, and coated in a thick layer of grime. But buried beneath all the sleaze is something curious, something not easily digested; for all the film's nastiness it somehow manages to feel wildly romantic.

The story: A pretty schoolgirl named Sun-hwa (Seo Won) is waiting for her boyfriend when she catches the eye of lowlife pimp Han-gi (Cho Jae-hyun). Moments later, the hoodlum--who never speaks a word, and whose chief accoutrement is a mean scar stretching from ear to ear--attacks, planting an unwanted kiss on the girl. A brawl breaks out and Sun-hwa spits on her attacker. It's a loogie with consequences--days later, Han-gi, still enraged (or perhaps smitten?), sets Sun-hwa up with a stolen wallet, and soon the proper schoolgirl finds herself heavily in debt. A stint in Seoul's red-light district is her only means of returning the money.

All of this is unsavory, to be sure, but there's a heart in the film, a heart hinted at in Kim's portrayal of the ghetto where pale reds, yellows, and greens gently bleed into each other, and where crickets chirp pleasantly in the calm morning hours while the girls wait for their suitors. And it's there in the way Han-gi watches Sun-hwa through a trick mirror while she works, his expression both ashamed and enamored at the same time. By the end, Kim has turned his film on its head, abandoning reality in favor of a fevered dream where time becomes inconsistent, love emerges between villain and victim, and men become immortal. You may leave Bad Guy offended, you may leave it confused--but you most certainly won't leave it unaffected. BRADLEY STEINBACHER

The Upside of Anger

dir. Mike Binder

Opens Fri March 18.
Secretly sleazy yuppies, oversexed teens, upscale infighting--as a cinematic subject, the exploration of suburbia's dark underbelly could stand to spend some serious time in the ground. The Upside of Anger makes an all-too-blatant grab for the award-friendly glory road well plowed by the likes of American Beauty and Terms of Endearment, yet is nearly redeemed by a cast that wrings out every last bit of potential from the formula. After being abandoned by her husband, a brittle housewife (Joan Allen, deliriously bitchy and never better) strikes up a boozy relationship with the scruffy ex-jock next door (Kevin Costner, finally at ease in his relaxed-fit Dockers, and with a shambling affability that makes his years adrift in the egocentric waterworld even more of a shame). The two leads are given able support by Alicia Witt, Keri Russell, Erika Christensen, and Evan Rachel Wood, who labor mightily to lend dimension to their colorformed parts as Allen's rebelling daughters. Indeed, the only weak acting link proves to be director/writer Mike Binder, who gifts himself the plum role of a skeevy radio producer with a inexplicably reciprocated jones for younger women (although, to be fair, his presence does set up Allen's finest moment, an approximately eight-stage reaction of mounting disgust that should set James Lipton a-weeping). Despite the xeroxed plot and a horribly misguided ending, Binder's film looks to have some serious legs (the preview audience went gonzo at every single wisecrack and heartstring pluck, to a degree I've rarely seen). Since you're going to eventually end up seeing it anyway, best to shrug off the flailing stabs at higher meaning and enjoy it for what it gets right: Two fine, yet often neglected, actors teeing off on a series of telegraphed pitches and repeatedly knocking the damned cover off of it. ANDREW WRIGHT

Ice Princess

dir. Tim Fywell

Opens Fri March 18.
Now I've never been a parent, but I imagine there are a few things a mom would never want to ever find hiding in her daughter's backpack. Ice Princess, Walt Disney's latest lame "believe in yourself" after-school special, features one of those tense moments between mother and daughter when all dirty secrets are revealed. In this pivotal scene, Casey Carlyl's mom (Joan Cusack) watches in horror as the contents of Casey's backpack spills across the living room floor. Thinking her daughter has been putting in long hours as a math tutor, Cusack learns that that's far from the truth. What does she see? Cigarettes? Condoms? Needles? An at-home abortion kit?! NO! SHE SEES MOTHERFUCKING ICE SKATES! Yeah, that's right. ICE SKATES. And a bright red sequined ice-skating leotard. AND SHE'S HORRIFIED.

See, Joan Cusack is this weird quasi-feminist sorta mom, and she doesn't want her daughter to play into any stereotypes or anything, so she's always pushed her daughter to be brains over beauty and all that. But as a strong move of rebellion, prissy Miss Perfectpants goes and starts ICE-SKATING!? And then they have a huge fight about it?!

So because mommy dearest is so anti being a girl, she refuses to watch her daughter skate even though she made it into some regional championships after only, like, a few months of skating. The girl's all smart and figured out the physics of ice-skating on her computer, you see, so now she knows how to do everything mathematically perfect. STUPID. And her coach, Kim Cattrall, is a little jealous because Casey almost knocked Cattrall's daughter, the girl with the stupid face, outta first place. So Cattrall, who doesn't say "dildo" even ONCE in this movie, tries to sabotage her. But oh wait! Just in the nick of time! Mommy comes back to stand up for her daughter and support her and her dreams after all! To repeat: STUPID. MEGAN SELING